The Oakland Raiders currently sit at 8-2 on the season – a full game ahead of the Denver Broncos – and neither the team, nor its fans seem to be handling it very well.
It’s been a while since the Oakland Raiders were in a position to be looking down at the rest of the field in the AFC West. And at 8-2, that’s exactly what they’re doing. The Raiders are in territory they haven’t been in a decade and a half – atop the division and in control of their own postseason destiny.
And there is one team – and its fans – who don’t seem to be taking the potential tipping of the balance of power in the AFC West particularly well. It seems that the Denver Broncos – and their fans – who have had a stranglehold on the division forever, are throwing a bit of a hissy fit now that the shoe is on the other foot and they’re looking up at the Raiders.
In the wake of Oakland’s 30-20 thrashing of the Broncos a few weeks back, Denver’s fans took to social media to downplay the quality – and yeah, dominance – of the Raiders win. Forget the fact that the Raiders hung 30 points on one of the NFL’s best defenses – a defense that won them a Super Bowl last season.
No, many Broncos fans out there combing through the comments section of every article they could find dismissed the fact that their team just got manhandled by saying that the given the fact that the Raiders were so dominant that they held the ball for nearly 42 minutes of a 60 minute game, they should have won by more.
For what it’s worth, the 30 points Oakland dropped on Denver were the most points allowed by the Broncos defense this season. Also – just putting his out there, but the 218 rushing yards and 397 total yards, were also season highs for a team against this vaunted Denver defense.
But, you know, logic. Perspective. Reason. Nobody ever accused the Denver faithful of having them.
No, they’ll focus on the fact that the Raiders only won by 10 points. Even though they controlled the clock for nearly 42 minutes. Even though they ran 76 plays on Denver’s defense – with 43 of those plays coming on the ground. Toss out the fact that Oakland racked up 30 first downs (to Denver’s 13), and that half of their 12 drives consumed more than four minutes of game time each.
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But no, that wasn’t the Raiders having their way with the Broncos. That wasn’t a team that came in with a game plan – to run it down Denver’s throat – control the clock, dictate the pace of the game, and have it succeed. That wasn’t one team imposing its will upon another. Instead, according to some Denver fans, that was simply a Raiders team struggling to put a game out of reach.
It has to be nice to live in an alternate reality where up is down and down is up, doesn’t it?
But lest you think that sort of reality-denying madness is rampant only among Denver’s fanbase, let us now disabuse you of that notion.
The Raiders had a primetime Monday night mactchup with the Houston Texans to close out the NFL’s week 11 slate of games. It’s a game that many are calling “controversial” when – well – it’s really not. The Raiders won, the Texans lost, and yes, there were some questionable calls among the officials.
But let’s not get it twisted – those questionable calls impacted both teams on Monday night. And let’s not pretend that there aren’t some highly questionable calls in every game that’s been played this season. Nothing was stolen from Houston and nothing was given to Oakland.
Some Broncos players though, seeing their share of first place in the division evaporating, went full tin-foil hat conspiracy theorists. Broncos linebacker Brandon Marshall sent out this Tweet during the game.
What isn’t entirely clear is how he thinks the Raiders are “cheating” — unless, in the alternate universe Marshall shares with some of the Denver faithful, “cheating” is constituted by winning games and knocking the Broncos off the lofty perch they’ve held for so long.
Marshall may call that “cheating” but some of us might call that a wicked sense of entitlement. But hey, whatever gets him through the night, right?
Seeing the Raiders take sole possession of first place in the division, Broncos safety T.J. Ward felt compelled to throw a little more gas on the fire. He strapped on his own tin-foil hat and tossed out this little gem:
Yeah, because the Raiders have a long history of giving and getting cooperation (and favorable calls) from the officials and the league. They have a long history of the league colluding with them to fix games.
Of course, Ward is also conveniently forgetting that in Denver’s controversial “win” over the New Orleans Saints in week 10, Denver benefited from just about the exact same play – and won the game because of it.
In that game, if you recall, Broncos safety Will Parks ran back a blocked extra point attempt back to give the Broncos an eight point lead – and the win. The score counted even though it appeared that Parks had stepped on the sideline – which would have blown the play dead had it been called.
In Oakland’s game with the Texans – the one that prompted all of the tin-foil hat conspiracy Tweets – Houston wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins broke for what appeared to be a touchdown, however officials called the play dead when it appeared that he stepped on the sideline.
So, the question then becomes – if Ward and Marshall believe that there was “cheating” or that the game was “staged” in favor of Oakland, was there “cheating” and “staging” happening in Denver’s game with New Orleans.
After all, one could make quite the compelling case that the league wants the Raiders and Broncos – longtime, bitter foes – to remain in a dogfight until the bitter end and thus, is helping Denver out with a few timely and beneficial calls.
Or could it be something simpler – like a team that’s been on top for so long, it feels like it’s owed that position – and feels that position slipping away. Could it be a case of a team that’s no longer as dominant as it was feeling their championship window closing as a younger, hungrier team is starting to take over? Or could it just be a case of sour grapes, poor sports, and sore losers?
Truthfully, it’s probably a combination of all those things.
Whatever the reason, Denver finally seems to be realizing that the Raiders are a force within the AFC West. We’ve come a long way from the days when John Elway and his staff were able to laugh off the idea that Oakland was a threat – remember this?
Elway and the Broncos suddenly seem to be waking up to the idea that this division is no longer simply theirs for the taking. That if they want it, they’re going to have to work for it. And that the Raiders – after a long, dark period of irrelevance – are now standing in their way.
Though the Raiders still have a lot of work to do – including another game with these same Broncos – they control their own destiny. Keep improving and keep winning and it doesn’t matter what Denver or anybody else does. The division is theirs – if they can keep it.
But it’s not going to be easy. Not by a long shot. The feather they can stick in the Raiders can – and should – stick in their caps though, is that by absolutely mauling the Broncos and making them look terrible in front of millions on Sunday Night Football, they served Denver notice and got under their skin.
They got deep under Denver’s skin – deep enough that the Broncos fans and their players are trying to downplay and diminish some crushing wins and are tossing out conspiracy theories to denigrate others. They all seem to be having such a hard time coping with the idea that the Raiders are rising – and are a genuine power in the AFC West – and the sun might just be setting on their little kingdom, that they’re trying to diminish the Raiders any way they can. It’s kind of sad, really.
A quote that is very frequently misattributed to Mahatma Gandhi – but is more likely a paraphrasing of a speech by early twentieth century union leader Nicholas Klein – seems relatively apt to the state of affairs in the AFC West. At least, as it pertains to the Broncos and Raiders…
"“First, they ignore you. Then, they laugh at you. Then, they fight you. Then, you win.”"
At 8-2, the Raiders are entering a gauntlet of horrors to close out the season. If they want to snatch the division crown off Denver’s head, it’s not going to be easy. But the tide certainly seems to be turning and the Raiders need to be taken very seriously as contenders in the AFC West – something the Broncos only now seem to fully grasp.
For a long time, the Broncos have had the luxury of ignoring and laughing at the Raiders. And now that the fight has come to them – and the Raiders are a legitimate threat to their crown – Denver and their fans are lashing out and latching on to outlandish conspiracy theories.
It almost makes you want to feel sorry for them. Almost. So, after years of looking up at the Broncos, of dealing with the verbal barbs and being the butt of many a joke, you’ll have to forgive Raiders fans, who at the moment, seem to be enjoying the salty, yet oh so sweet taste of Denver’s tears.